What is Christmas (Advertising) Made Of?
Love / Magic - Apple's 'Sway'
Apple’s 'Sway' spot serves some very traditional but effective Christmas magic. A woman walks down a perfect, snowy avenue in a small town that looks like Christmas itself. She puts on her AirPods (Apple wireless headphones) and selects Sam Smith’s 'Palace' from Apple Music. The music starts, the lighting changes. It’s a magical Christmas night and she begins to dance. She moves through the Christmas wonderland, lost in her own thoughts until (you guessed it!), she bumps into a handsome young man. The music stops, they look at each other. She takes one of her AirPods and places it in his ear. Sam Smith’s song continues, the lighting changes once again and they start dancing together in the Christmas wonderland. They dance in a snowy corridor, on a bridge and on top of the cars, and just when they are about to kiss (you guessed it!) - the music stops, the dream ends, and they are back in bright daylight, looking at each other, caught in the moment. And they part ways as the slogan 'move someone this holiday' appears.
The spot, directed by Sam Brown, is beautifully shot, choreographed and art directed. The cast look like what people in Apple commercials usually look like. They are young, good looking, ethnically ambiguous and approachable. The music is the real script of this film and no dialogue is needed as the lyrics say it all. The product shots are seamlessly integrated in the story, which I can appreciate. Apple has a way of looking fresh and new, even when they ride on the traditional holiday magic of snowflakes and Christmas night magic.
Family / Tradition - Sky Cinema’s 'The Sound of Music' by WCRS London
Family and tradition are the key elements of Christmas, so naturally they are the pillars of most Christmas advertisements. In their 2017 holiday spot, Sky Cinema is doing it right! In this heartfelt ad, mother and daughter bond over 'The Sound of Music' every Christmas as the time goes by.
We see the mom and her young daughter dance to the movie as the dad is filming them. We see the mom cover her daughter’s eyes during a kissing scene. We see the daughter and her brother as teenagers, sitting on the couch as the film is playing, looking embarrassed of their mom who is dancing like Maria on the Alps. We see mom watching the film alone, visibly missing her daughter who has sent a postcard from Thailand. We hear the line from the movie “but I don’t want to sing without Fräulein Maria.” We see the daughter, now a young adult, come home for Christmas and surprise her mom, just like Maria returns from the ministry in the movie. Finally, the daughter has a daughter of her own and the three of them are all watching 'The Sound of Music' together.
This spot is emotional in a way that a great film (like The Sound of Music) can be. It moves you without being cheesy like so many Christmas spots and without trying to sell you the commercial side of Christmas (which is a hard task for any ad). The narrative flows forward using different scenes in 'Sound of Music' as key moments while the evergreen song 'My Favourite Things' plays in the background. Thank you for this Christmas ad where we don’t see Santa, or dive into a VFX-filled wonderland or even hear any Christmas music at all. That’s what I call a Christmas miracle!
Food – Tesco’s 'Everyone’s Welcome' by BBH London
Holidays are a wonderful time to be a food retailer and Tesco is happy to sell turkeys to everyone this Christmas. As we all know, food can be a major cause for stress during the holiday season and the best moments of this ad are those that show the not-so-perfect side of cooking for your family.
This spot features multiple families of different ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religions, all gathering together to eat turkey. It starts off as a traditional music-and-vignettes spot, as everything looks a bit too stylised and commercial-perfect, but later becomes something more than that as we dive into an array of seemingly real and imperfect kitchens, one in which a woman is attempting to pull the turkey out of the oven while most of the peas fall on the floor, as she asks if everyone’s got a drink. That scene made me laugh out loud. The atmosphere is wonderfully English. There is mess and noise and chaos, which is all right because it's the holidays. The nicely slow and comforting Christmas track of this spot balances the tense moments between families as well as the scenes that show the overall holiday stress. Towards the end, the chaos changes to images that indicate the pleasure of finally sitting down to eat with your loved ones and then the tired faces that are ready to fall asleep after an eventful day.
While the overall story is about the Christmas dinner, food doesn’t play a huge role in the art direction of this spot and we don´t see too many perfect tabletop moments, which I appreciate. This ad feels fairly real and relatable in terms of the settings and the feeling of it although it did feel a bit forced to make it seem like all these different groups of people would have a similar Christmas dinner. From that perspective it leaves the viewer with a feeling that everyone who is having a traditional English Christmas meal is welcome at Tesco.
Joy of Giving / Receiving Gifts – Amazon’s 'Give' by Lucky Generals
What would a Christmas spot be without the joy of giving and receiving gifts? We are getting to the core of what Christmas advertising is all about. At the end of the day, we are trying to make consumers buy things with these ads.
Instead of showing a magical Christmas world where Santa and his elves are prepping gifts to be loaded into a flying sleigh, Amazon has decided to show a more realistic side to the gifts logistics. While the magical element is found in the form of animated Amazon boxes that sing Roger Hodgson’s 'Give a Little Bit' and even flirt with each other, the spot shows their journey to airplanes, trucks and motorcycles that deliver them all around the world. As a big fan of Amazon’s seamless and fast delivery system, I couldn’t help but feeling that this can’t be good for the environment.
The beginning of the ad is a bit confusing too. We see a girl in a bus, browsing her phone and either facetiming or looking at a short video of a girl that could be her sister, but it isn’t entirely clear. From this image we see her browse gifts on Amazon and then jump to the Amazon warehouse and the singing boxes. We never get a feeling that any of the boxes was necessarily purchased by her, and we never return to the bus again. At the end of the ad, a little girl receives one of the boxes and we can assume that this was the girl on the phone. I was a bit disappointed that we never got to see what’s inside the box, but rather just the packing and delivery process. It also looks like the spot was shot at the Amazon packing facility, which doesn’t look like a magical place at all, but more like a big, dull factory. While the boxes may be animate and sing, the Amazon packing workers in the background look slightly sad and not necessarily showing the holiday spirit. I think Amazon could have done better.
Stress / Rush – Audi’s Christmas campaign by Venables Bell & Partners
As we learned from Tesco’s turkey spot, Christmas is a stressful time. This brilliant Audi ad rides on the stress factor for two tense minutes where we see a pair of men fight over a parking spot at a mall. This spot is all about performance, the cars and the actors, as well as the 'Carol of the Bells' song, which will make anyone’s blood pressure spike. After all, a big part of the Christmas stress is caused by haunting Christmas music that we are forced to listen to from November onward.
This commercial starts with a scary image of a Santa who is channelling his inner Pennywise while slowly ringing a bell in his hand. The man in the red Audi sees this and is visibly disturbed by it, as he drives forward to get his parking ticket as a white Audi pulls next to him. The two Audi owners look at each other politely, only to notice the automated counter notifying them both that there is only one parking spot left on the upper level of the garage. This starts an insane driving competition where we witness various scenes of frustration, anger and disbelief. Every once in a while we cut to the Christmas carollers singing the “Carol of the Bells” outside the mall. The climax of song brings us to the high-stress moment between the two drivers on the roof of the building, where they are faced with a big ramp that leads to a vacant parking area. We see them accelerate full-speed up the ramp and then the image cuts to black. The spot has a comic ending when we see our two characters reappear inside the mall, where they both spot a toy that is, of course, the last of its kind and we get the feeling that a new kind of race will start. While fighting over a parking spot is relatable, it is at the same time a bit absurd. At the end of the day, the stakes aren’t very high, but the tagline 'It’s the most wonderful time of the year' is ironic enough, and makes fun of all the silly frustrations we face when stressed out.
Greenpeace NZ – 'Alternative Coca-Cola Ad' by Weekend, London
Coca-Cola’s Christmas advertisements are some of the most iconic holiday commercials of all time. When someone says 'Christmas commercial,' the first thing I see in my mind is the magical Coca-Cola truck, driven by Santa who delivers Coca-Cola to happy-looking people in a beautifully lit winter wonderland. I still remember how I felt when I saw one of those ads in the '90s. I wanted to be in that magical land too. But now it’s 2017 and things are not looking too great for our oceans.
Greenpeace NZ has perfect timing with its own holiday campaign, called the 'Alternative Coca-Cola Ad.' We see the usual Christmas moments play out: family, tradition, food, magic and love. But every moment seem to be shadowed by the presence of plastic. It’s in the food, in the snow, in the Christmas tree and even in the mistletoe. Finally we see two children building a snowman as they look out at the lights from a garbage-looking Coca-Cola truck pass by, with sad expressions on their faces. The truck pulls right next to an ocean and the hungover-looking Santa hops out of the front seat, drinking some Coca-Cola from a plastic bottle while he dumps all the plastic bottles from his magical Coca-Cola truck into the ocean. He even throws his own empty bottle over his shoulder.
The sweet old Santa we’re so used to seeing in Christmas commercials turns out to be more of a villain in this Greenpeace spot. Here Santa is someone who does not care that everything he delivers ends up in the ocean and eventually in our food and drinking water. This ad is powerful as it reminds us that we have to be responsible of our consumption, even more so during the holiday season. This ad gets extra points for almost looking like a real Coca-Cola ad, except that I would not want to be in this world.